John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Hopkins and Elizabeth Fitzackerly. In 1801, his family emigrated to the United States, settling first in New Jersey and then in Pennsylvania. John was educated primarily by his mother, and took early employment in the iron industry in western Pennsylvania. He began reading for the law in his mid-20s, and was admitted to the bar in Pittsburgh in 1818. He established a successful law career in Pittsburgh, but when a vacancy opened in his parish church, Trinity Church, the community elected Hopkins to fill it. He had not previously considered pursuing the ministry, but he considered the church's vote to be a sign of divine will and decided to read for orders. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in 1824, and in 1832 was elected to be the first bishop of Vermont, an office he would hold for 36 years. During his episcopate in Burlington, Hopkins established the Vermont Episcopal Institute, which most of his children attended. Aside from his ecclesiastical duties, he wrote the first book on gothic architecture in the United States (Essays on Gothic Architecture, with Various Plans and Drawings), drafted the plans for the University of the South, composed music, was a skilled engraver and artist, and wrote several dozen theological works.
In 1861, he wrote his most controversial pamphlet, The Bible View of Slavery, in which he criticized abolitionists and declared that no scriptural basis for ending slavery existed. He came under fire in the North during the Civil War, but had a key role in uniting the northern and southern Episcopalians after hostilities ended.
He died in 1868.
In 1816, Hopkins married Melusina Mueller (1795-1884), whose family had emigrated from Germany in 1805, and together they had 14 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. Melusina's sister, Amelia Mueller, lived with them and helped raise the children. The eldest son, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., (1820-1891) followed his father's calling and became an Episcopal minister. He is now best known as the composer of "We Three Kings," but he was also an author and important figure in the Episcopal Church. However, it was their third son, Caspar Thomas Hopkins (1826-1893), who is the main focus of this collection. Not inclined to the ministry, Caspar tried many occupations. Shortly after his graduation from the University of Vermont in 1847, he started a periodical called "The Vermont State Agriculturalist." In 1849 he moved to California, attracted by the opportunity to mine for gold. In 1853 he married Almira Burtnett (1828-1875), and they had four children: Frances Isabella or "Belle" (1854-1941), Amelia (b. 1856), Myra (b. 1864), and William (b. 1866). After testing out several endeavors, including trading, sailing, and exploring southern Oregon, Caspar finally settled on a career in marine and fire insurance. In 1861, he established the first insuranc company on the Pacific coast, the California Insurance Company, and served as its president for 35 years. Like others in the Hopkins family, Caspar shared a love for intellectual and artistic pursuits, especially music and writing.
Caspar also participated in the more secular worlds of scholarship and politics (he wrote a civics textbook entitled Manual of American Ideas), as an active participant in societies like the small, invitation-only Berkley Club. Caspar remained in California until his death on October 4, 1893.